Q: I would like your advice on clarifying rulings on solvent extraction in perfumary.
There are certain oil fragrances that is extracted from plant based based materials using solvent i.e. ethyl Alcohol. These are oils such as vanilla absolutes, Tonka bean absolutes, tobacco absolutes which are core ingredients used extensively in perfumary. After the alcohol is removed, the remaining substance is called an absolute. An absolute is the most concentrated form of natural fragrance, with an aroma close to the plant from which it came.
In addition there’s typically 1 to 3 percent of alcohol left after the alcohol is removed. We further dilute small amounts (drops) of these absolutes into other oil blends which further reduces alcohol volume to may be 0.01 to 0.03 percent.
Is this small residue still considered impure and therefore haram?
A: According to the position of Imam Abu Hanifa, ethyl alcohol that is not derived from dates or grapes is not ritually impure and its trade is permissible. Thus, the use of such alcohol does not render the absolutes ritually impure. However, if the ethyl alcohol is derived from dates or grapes, then even according to the position of Imam Abu Hanifa, such alcohol is ritually impure, its trade is impermissible and it will also render the absolutes ritually impure even if there is not even the 1 to 3 percent residue.
According to the position of Imam Malik, Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Muhammad, Imam al-Shafi’i, and Imam Ahmad, ethyl alcohol is impure irrespective of origin and it will render the absolutes ritually impure.
The position of Imam Abu Hanifa is preferred for issues that do not involve the consumption of the ethyl alcohol.
And Allah knows best.
Mufti Mohammed Zubair Butt
Chair, Al-Qalam Shariah Scholars Panel